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The Minister said that substituting six months for three months is draconian. I have always thought that King Draco has had rather a rough time in terms of world history since he performed his original acts. We now know from archaeology that the Philistines were nothing like as disagreeable as they have always been thought to be. I hope that in due course King Draco's reputation may be resuscitated too. I mention him because, if my six months are draconian, then the Minister's three months are semi-draconian. In the circumstances, it would be possible for us to argue, taking the alternative point of view, that the Government are being, although not draconian, semi-draconian, which is a step in the same wrong direction.
The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 256, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 265 to 267, 269, 328, and 330 to 333. Although there are a number of amendments listed, I speak to the generality of themcertainly to the generality of the first five. The amendments to Clause 90 are consequential.
Clause 54 enables the Secretary of State to make regulations under which the fees payable for licence applications are prescribed nationally. The Committee is familiar with the fact that I represented Westminster in another place. In common with most local authorities, Westminster considers that a licensing authority must be able to set fees which reflect the costs of providing and enforcing the licensing regime and which are appropriate to the local area.
As drafted, the Bill will prevent the council and local authorities from setting a realistic licensing fee. Costs will inevitably vary significantly from region to region within the United Kingdom. Costs to Westminster for additional administration, inspection and enforcementI believe that I quoted the figure in an earlier debateare estimated to be £1.6 million and £2.1 million. Even those figures do not take into account additional costs associated with street cleansing and policing that will be incurred in the event of substantial increases in late-night drinking.
The Committee will recall Stanley Baldwin's remark at the Westminster by-election during the 192931 Parliament that the press barons were exercising power without responsibility. He described it in a phrase provided to him by his cousin, Kipling, as "the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages". In
Lord Redesdale: I speak to Amendments Nos. 261 and 271 in the names also of my noble friend Lord Falkland and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, who is ill today. The noble Baroness will be unable to speak to the amendments. I speak to Amendment No. 261 possibly for different reasons than those of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton.
The issue of feeswhich I believe will be prescribed in the guidanceneeds to be debated. A balance is required between the ability of local authorities to meet their obligations as set out in the Bill and their need to be self-financing without the fee being so onerous as to tax the industry, as has happened in the past.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has indicated that fee amounts may change dramatically. I may be putting words into the mouth of the noble Lord; he perhaps did not say dramatically, but simply indicated that different fees would be charged in different areas. That appears to contradict the situation we were led to expect in the White Paper; namely, that fees would be at a reasonable level and not vary much between local authorities.
Obviously that will have consequences throughout the country. I should like the Minister to give some indication of whether fees will be allowed to be set at reasonably different levels between local authorities. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, is concerned about the ability of local authorities to meet their obligations. However, the industry is rightly worried that the White Paper indicates that a single figure would be uniform throughout the country. From what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said, that may not be the position.
Amendment No. 270 seeks to place an obligation on the industry to pay fees on time. If it fails to do so, this could leave licensing authorities with liabilities. It is a probing amendment to ascertain the Government's views.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: Amendments Nos. 263 and 264 stand in my name. I agree with the force of the argument advanced by my noble friend Lord Brooke in introducing this group of amendments. But equally, we must find a way to prevent capricious behaviour on the part of local authorities which may see this provision as a means to earn revenue. This is a licensing Bill, not a street-cleaning or policing Bill.
The view from the pubs in Derbyshire is that a great deal of the Bill has to do with areas inside the M25 and that much of the debate has related to a Westminster urban environment and has had less relevance to their
The provision must not become open-ended, because there is the potential for unfair and discriminatory activity. The industry is already a big taxpayer. Many of these businesses are small concerns; therefore, a high fee would be very damaging. We tend to forget that although Westminster incurs costs in terms of policing, street-cleaning and so on, it also receives great benefits from the economic activity that public houses bring: tourism, for example, and the fact that people are attracted to the area. To single out licensing activity as requiring special treatment is not fair. Therefore, where fees are being set, my Amendment No. 263 requires the Government to have regard,
Amendment No. 264 is a probing amendment in the interests of clarity. The idea of an annual fee opens up a series of concerns: how it will be set; how often it will be reviewed; and the possible relationship between the original fee for obtaining a licence and the annual fee payable thereafterbearing in mind that some 30,000 licensed premises in this country are free-houses; that is, they are essentially small businesses for which these kinds of charges could be significant.
Viscount Falkland: Further to the points so clearly set out by my noble friend Lord Redesdale, will the Minister enlighten us, as we do not have the guidance in front of us? A tension must arise between the requirements of local authorities to carry out their duties under the Bill and the difficulty in which certain businesses will find themselves; namely, having to worry about whether their current costs will escalate. I know that discussions have taken place and that the Minister has already expressed a view, but I refer specifically to cinemas and small theatres. For such organisations to be looking at an uncertain period in which they might be required to put aside substantial funds which they would find it hard to acquire in order to meet surprisingly high costs in this area is undesirable. One would wish that they would remain in roughly the same position as under the present regime, but there is a danger here and there will be a tension in this area.
Baroness Buscombe: I rise to speak to Amendments Nos. 262, 268 and 271 relating to fees and their regulation. Many of the fears voiced at Second Reading concerned what fees should be charged by the licensing authority and whether they should be set centrally or be subject to local variation; and how the system could possibly be cost-recoverable for the licensing authorities.
I fear that the Government's assurances have failed to satisfy either party. Licensed premises may fear the kind of extortion that they have faced in the past in order to procure public entertainment licences. They may also question whether the three-tier system of fees charged will be a fair one.
Although I sympathise with those concerns, I believe that the local authorities, which will take on the role of licensing authorities, have more grounds for alarm. We have spoken of the costs in terms of administration, working hours and the setting up of computer software programmes that the new licensing system requires. Aside from this, there is the extra burden that will accrue to local authorities in other spheresfor example, street cleaning and transport.
I simply do not see how the system can be self-financing unless there is scope for some local variation in the fees set. I stress my firm belief that there must be a capped maximum limit, as emphasised in Amendment No. 271. Fees should not by any means be allowed to rocket sky high at the whim of a local authority, which should be using funds other than the proceeds of licensing to pay for street cleaning, for example.
The issue is controversial. Why should one venue pay more for its licence than another, similar, venue simply because it is situated in an urban area, where cost recovery is likely to be higher? It could be argued that the costs for a premises in an urban area will be lower because of the number of premises in a small area all contributing to those costs. Is it enough to say that this discrepancy in the fee should be the price to pay for a self-financing and efficient licensing system?
These are probing amendments at this stage. We look forward to the publication of the draft guidance. We hope that, in addition to the Minister's response to our amendments today, the draft guidance will be clear as to exactly how this system will work and how the fees will be set.
Although the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, is not in his place, and notwithstanding the fact that my name has not been added to his amendments, perhaps I may speak briefly to them. He, too, is concerned about fees. His Amendment No. 259 suggests that the amount of the fee for applications under this part of the Bill should be,
My noble friend Lord Hodgson said that many of the concerns relate to what happens within the M25, but much of the debate is what I would call "pub centric". We are talking about the entertainment industry as a whole.
The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, is concerned about extremely large events which sometimes have enormous fees placed upon them. Certainly in the area where I live the local authority demands extraordinarily high fees for occasional events involving entertainment on a large scale.